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Parents Shape Early Adolescents’ Eating Behaviors

Parents’ behaviors have a significant impact on their children’s development. For children, parents tend to be role models whose authority cannot be questioned (Reicks et al. 8788). Parents are often the adults who are trusted and loved. They are also the source of knowledge as children observe the way parents behave in different situations and develop their own behavioral patterns. However, as children transfer to adolescence their parents’ influence decreases, which is also apparent in their dietary habits. Many factors affect children’s food choices at this developmental stage, but parents’ modeling remains one of the central aspects (Reicks et al. 8788). This paper includes an analysis of parents’ role modeling as one of the causes of certain dietary patterns development in early adolescents.

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At this point, it is necessary to define the term modeling and a role model in order to consider the extent to which the concepts affect children’s eating habits. Reicks et al. note that “modeling is a form of behavioral mimicry that often occurs without conscious awareness” (8790). Role models are people whose behavior is imitated on a regular basis. Behavioral patterns that are mimicked can be associated with various areas of human life, including but not confined to identity formation, risky behaviors, physical activity, and eating patterns.

Although celebrities are regarded as common role models for children, their parents are the primary figures whose behavior is adopted and imitated without “conscious awareness” (Reicks et al. 8790). Nevertheless, the relevance of parents as role models can be diminished due to a number of reasons, and some of them will be considered below.

The bond between parents and children can also be different throughout the stages of child development. This link is justified by biological and psychological peculiarities of humans who feel an attachment to their close ones (usually parents) who care about them (Reicks et al. 8788). Moreover, in the majority of cases, parents are the primary source of knowledge regarding the world at the earliest stages of children’s life. As children grow, they learn about different behavioral patterns by imitating their parents’ behaviors.

Although the link is not as strong as between a parent and a young child, early adolescents (those between 10 and 14 years old) also see their parents as role models (Reicks et al. 8788). They observe their parents’ behavior and copy it in many ways. Reicks et al. emphasize that if parents do not maintain a healthy lifestyle, their child (irrespective of their age) is unlikely to be physically active or have a proper diet (8788).

Parents have to be engaged in various activities and keep to a healthy diet so that their children could develop healthy habits. Familial traditions and values are often the background for the further evolution of tastes and behaviors (Reicks et al. 8790). Dietary preferences are formed during childhood alongside children’s exposure to new products and dietary patterns. However, these food likings undergo considerable changes throughout children’s life. For instance, children may dislike some vegetables in their early childhood but develop a strong liking for this food in adolescence.

It is possible to state that children’s consumption of certain foods also depends on the availability of products and the norms accepted in their families. Parents serve as role models for choosing foods outside children’s homes. If they are accustomed to certain types of food, children are most likely to make the corresponding choices in other settings. However, different types of parenting have an effect on children’s food-related decisions made in school or other environments. Hebestreit et al. state that parents lose their status as a role model or their behaviors are not mimicked in all aspects if parents’ behavior is inconsistent with the values they propagate (11).

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For example, if a parent uses alcohol or abuses another member of a family, they can hardly become a role model. Therefore, the right food choices made (occasionally or systematically) by this individual will have limited weight for the child. In such cases, whenever they have a chance, children will try to eat the foods that are not available at home. The availability of unhealthy foods in school premises contributes to children’s consumption of soft drinks and unhealthy snacks.

It has been found that paternal behavior has a strong influence on early adolescents’ preferences regarding snacks while mothers have an impact on their children’s meals behaviors. Reicks et al. argue that one parent can be a role model simultaneously and affect the child’s eating patterns; both parents can also be role models who influence different aspects of eating (8787). In simple terms, children mimic their parents’ attitudes towards some foods they consume during a day.

Mothers are often responsible for preparing food for meals that are often rather balanced, depending on the family’s income. Fathers’ snacking habits are adopted, and a child tends to eat fruit if the father chooses this kind of food for a snack. It is possible to note that children’s eating habits are mainly formed by their parents’ choices as adults form the dietary agenda for their families. Nevertheless, these conventions transform into preferences that result in the development of eating habits children use outside their home.

As mentioned above, parental influence often becomes less pronounced under peer pressure. Early adolescence is the time when children seek to obtain their peers’ acceptance and appraisal (Reicks et al. 8788). Thus, a child is likely to choose unhealthy foods outside their homes if their peers prefer this type of food. At the same time, a child would choose healthy snacks if the group of peers is characterized by healthy dietary habits. Social role models, such as peers or celebrities, may form dietary preferences of certain groups of adolescence. Therefore, it is evident that different types of role models compete, and children may lose this competition if they choose the wrong parenting style.

The impact of peer pressure correlates with parenting and its effectiveness. For example, ineffective parenting is associated with the loss of the link between a child and a parent, which leads to child’s desire to gain certain status among peers (Reicks et al. 8789). On the contrary, children whose parents are caring and loving will not be influenced significantly by their peers since their approval is less relevant. Such children seek the appraisal and support of their parents who are role models for them. These children find it normal and self-evident that the food their families consume is the most appropriate choice for them.

Parents are often unaware of the fact that they are role models, or they do not fully understand the extent to which they affect their children’s behavior. It is quite often that a parent may encourage or force a child to eat healthy food and be physically active without displaying the corresponding behavior (Reicks et al. 8788). In such families, parents often try to make their children eat vegetables while having rather a different diet.

Adults can also be physically inactive while trying to force their children to do sports or eat healthy foods. As mentioned above, parents’ inconsistent behavior leads to their loss of the status of a role model. It is possible to state that such parents also influence the development of their children’s eating patterns, but this impact is negative. Children try to follow other role models (peers, celebrities, characters from TV series or movies) and choose unhealthy eating.

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In conclusion, it is necessary to note that parents often serve as role models for their adolescent children shaping their behaviors and their dietary habits. Although parental influence is weaker during early adolescence, as compared to early childhood, children still develop their eating patterns based on family values and traditions. However, parents may fail to remain role models at this age, and peers or other people can have a greater impact on their children, which is often associated with negative consequences.

It is also common that parents do not maintain a healthy lifestyle although trying to encourage or make their children eat healthy foods. In such cases, children may eat healthy foods at home but will try to consume unhealthy snacks outside their homes. Therefore, parents need to make sure they maintain a healthy lifestyle and use the appropriate parenting style to make sure their adolescent children have a healthy diet and live a healthy life.

Works Cited

Hebestreit, Antje, et al. “Dietary Patterns of European Children and Their Parents in Association with Family Food Environment: Results from the I.Family Study.” Nutrients, vol 9, no. 2, 2017, pp. 1-17.

Reicks, Marla, et al. “Influence of Parenting Practices on Eating Behaviors of Early Adolescents During Independent Eating Occasions: Implications for Obesity Prevention.” Nutrients, vol 7, no. 10, 2015, pp. 8783-8801.

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